With the beginning of the holiday season and all the geeky blockbusters ready to grace our movie-theater screens, many people are raiding their closets for costumes to wear while standing in line. Heck, I’m one of them. Dressing up is a part of the experience for lots of us fans, and it can range from a T-shirt to a Jedi robe to a full-blown costume made custom with one’s own lightsaber.
This week, however, this statement from AMC has been popping up in the news:
AMC does not permit weapons or items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the movie-going experience. Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks. In short, bring your lightsaber, turn it off during the movie, and leave the blaster and Darth Vader mask at home.
When you visit the AMC website to purchase tickets, the above policy is now stated clearly at the top of the page, in a different color and font from the rest of the content and hard to miss. A number of fans are already up in arms about this, and there are clickbait articles being shared everywhere about how this will anger the fans, cosplayers specifically. But really, we shouldn’t be looking at it this way.
As cosplayers and geeky fans in general, we’re used to attending conventions, dressing up as our favorite characters, and portraying them in all sorts of ways. While us going to movies, video-game stores, live performances, and mall events is a part of that geekery, it’s important to remember that these venues are also frequented by people who aren’t part of our geek world. To the average person, dressing up at a movie theater is unusual and can even be unsettling.
With some movies, something like this isn’t nearly so obvious a problem. The premiere of Frozen didn’t bring up conversations like this—it’s not that it’s uncommon to see someone dressed as Anna or Elsa at the movie theater, but their costumes are quite different and generally don’t need such a blanket warning. Something like Star Wars, which takes place in a world full of blasters, lightsabers, massive cloaks, and helmets completely hiding your face, is a different story. No matter what your intent, coming to a mainstream event with a plastic mask covering your entire face or carrying a fake gun can put people on edge and generally isn’t a good idea.
You may be the nicest person in the world who’s just there to enjoy the film, but the fact that theater staff and other moviegoers can’t see your face means they are left to wonder. Given the shootings have happened at theaters in the last few years—not just in Colorado in 2012, the event that prompted AMC’s policy in the first place, but in Louisiana and Tennessee just this year—it’s not ridiculous for people to be a little cautious.
In the end, an announcement like this shouldn’t be seen as the theaters or a specific company telling us to hide our geekery. Quite the opposite! They aren’t telling patrons to not wear costumes. Instead, the theater is demonstrating that it knows people will show up in costume and they’re okay with it within reasonable limits. By putting up its notice, AMC is actually acknowledging that costumes are a part of the fandom and will be at most, if not all, of the showings of The Force Awakens. In order to make it fun and safe for everyone, however, they’ve set out some guidelines to minimize confusion, put worries to rest, and let us all enjoy the movie in our own way. No, you may not be completely “authentic” with your costume, but other fans at the showing don’t have to spend the movie wondering whether that blaster on your hip could actually shoot someone.
Events like this are amazing. It’s not that often that movies come out with such a wide appeal and bring together geek and non-geek alike. I want to encourage everyone to not let this ruin their enjoyment of the event and to instead look at the policy in a different light.
That text box that people are so worried about is visible to everyone who buys a ticket. In fact, it’s telling those who don’t normally dress up that this will likely be a costumed event. Maybe, upon seeing that box, a guy will remember he has an old brown bathrobe in their closet that sorta makes them look like a Jedi. Maybe a woman will remember she has a pair of white pants, a white turtleneck, and a white padded vest to go as Leia. Maybe a child will ask his mother to make him a cape and buy him a lightsaber for the movie so he can join in the fun.
In the end, it’s about the experience of seeing the movie with like-minded fans and being whisked away for that small time to a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Sacrificing your mask and blaster is a very small price to pay so that the experience as a whole is enjoyable for everyone, cosplayer or not.